Sunday, April 12, 2015

Captain Stanton's real-life counterpart

Jane Austen famously said that in order to get a Mr. Darcy, you have to create him. But there is at least one example out there, from her time, of a man I think you could call quite worthy of a romantic story. Meet Admiral Sir Philip Broke:


I'm slowly making my way though his biography. It was published in 1866 and is packed with primary source info, which is great, but there are also things like a full accounting of every shot that hit the ships in the battle of HMS Shannon vs. USS Chesapeake, so it reads slowly at times. That battle, in which Captain Broke defeated an American frigate, following several high-profile defeats of British frigates at the hands of the Americans, earned him a baronetcy and made him famous.

Broke was undoubtedly a gentleman, who, despite being an eldest son and due to inherit Broke Hall, still joined the navy -- attending Portsmouth Naval Academy at the same time as Charles Austen -- and rose through its ranks. What will really warm your heart, though, is his relationship with his wife. Broke was grievously wounded in the battle against the Chesapeake, and when they took him to the surgeon's cockpit, they found that he had been wearing a lock of his wife's hair in a little silk case hanging from his neck.

These are excerpts from the second letter he wrote his wife after the battle, the first being a very short note to tell his wife of the victory and that he was recovering of his wounds:

"Halifax, June 19th, 1813.

"I am, thank God! recovering fast, though it will be yet some days before my wound is sufficiently closed to allow me to live well and get in good condition again. The constant headaches are now leaving me; I wished my beloved L––––'s were as surely removed: they made me think of you, poor Gentle! I have been living on rice milk, but am now going to eat vegetables, &c.; in another week I shall live like other people. The doctors ordered me not to talk or think; indeed, I could not, without painful exertion, till lately. But now Wodehouse and my other friends come and chat with me, and I walk about upon the lawn. I wish it was in our shady old avenue at Nacton, with my sweet L––––. I read idle books to kill time, but cannot study yet. The dictating of my public letter was a painful effort to me, but I am stronger now. The neighbouring gardens have sent me some pretty bouquets of flowers for my room; indeed, everybody is most attentively kind to me, and to all my officers and crew, and they richly deserve it... A doubtful droit has been decided in my favour, so I shall send home soon a thousand pounds more to Child's; so spare no money that can procure you comfort. Please God we shall soon meet; but live happy till we do, my beloved L––––, and enjoy yourself with the dear children God has blessed us with, and with the amiable friends you have round you. Tell mamma I will write her soon. Give my love to all round you and in Suffolk. Heaven bless you all for your affectionate

"P. B. V. Broke."

I think Captain Broke would certainly have been a husband worthy of any Austen heroine. And I'd say Sarah Louisa Broke was quite a fortunate woman, excepting the fact that she had to bear all of the births of their 11 children!

The full set of Captain Broke's correspondence with his "beloved L––––" following the battle can be found here, for those interested in reading more.

A Regime of Fun

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